Blue Fox on hunt ban, Sunday Express,May 2014
‘DAVID Cameron will sweep to power with an overall majority if he promises to lift the ban on fox hunting’, lobbyists claimed last night.
By: Caroline Wheeler
Published: Sun, May 11, 2014
A pro-hunting group is lobbying Conservative MPs to lift the ban on fox hunting [PA]
Pro-hunting group Vote-OK, which flooded marginal constituencies with an army of 15,000 volunteers at the last general election, says it helped the Tories win 36 seats.
Now it is mobilising its troops again as the countdown begins to next year’s vote.
George Bowyer, the group’s national director, said: “If the Conservatives won another 36 seats this time that would give them a majority.”
Opinion polls suggest the outcome of the 2015 general election will be on a knife-edge as the economy recovers and every marginal seat will be hotly contested.
Vote-OK’s intervention could be crucial and determine the result of the election.
The group campaigns for MPs, rather than parties, who promise to vote for a repeal of Labour’s Hunting Act.
Tory backbenchers Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton in Devon, and Simon Hart, former Countryside Alliance chief executive, are pushing for the Tories to include a hunting pledge in their manifesto amid fears that traditional voters may desert the party for Ukip.
Ukip is already snapping at the heels of the Conservatives on the issue, pledging to introduce local referendums on fox hunting to give people in rural communities the power to decide.
Last night Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who is fiercely opposed to the fox-hunting ban, confirmed he had already begun negotiations with several “senior organisers” of Vote- OK about harnessing the group’s support for its candidates at the general election.
‘You cannot expect people who support hunting to deliver leaflets if the party does not deliver on policy’- Neil Parish
In March, the Prime Minister expressed “regret” after attempts were abandoned to scrap a limit on using more than two dogs to flush out foxes causing a nuisance.
Mr Parish, rural affairs chairman on the Tory backbench 1922 committee, has warned that the hunting issue could return to haunt the party in a similar way to Europe.
Now he has repeated his demands for a firm manifesto commitment. He said: “It will be a pivotal issue in a certain number of seats and certainly in many seats in the West Country where in some cases the fight is against Labour and in others against the Lib Dems.
“Vote-OK are very good at putting troops on the ground and delivering leaflets, and that is something Conservative candidates found very helpful at the last general election. We have to be absolutely clear.
“You cannot expect people who support hunting to deliver leaflets if the party does not deliver on policy.”
In 2010 the group reportedly mobilised activists to work in the top 58 seats targeted by the Conservatives, of which 36 were captured by pro-hunting candidates.
Mr Bowyer boasts Vote-OK made a “significant difference” in the 36 marginal seats where its volunteers campaigned heavily, resulting in a swing that was “higher than expected”.
Among those areas targeted were seats in North Devon, Cornwall and Gloucestershire.
Mr Bowyer acknowledged that if Vote- OK repeated its performance next year, it could make the difference between another coalition and a Tory majority.
“We would like to think that if we do something at the next general election, we will have an impact on where we do it,” he said.
“Active campaigning in constituencies is said to make a difference of between one or two percentage points in elections. In a marginal seat that could be influential.”
Last night a Conservative Party source said no decision had been taken on its position on fox hunting at the general election.
Hunting with hounds does not have full support within the Tory party.
Conservatives Against Fox Hunting is a highly active and vociferous group, with supporters known as the Blue Foxes.
Co-founder Lorraine Platt has said bringing back hunting with dogs would alienate the very women supporters the Tories seek.
She said: “We are seeing an increasing number of Conservative women at the forefront in the campaign against hunting with dogs, not just women MPs but also Conservative women councillors, agents and party members.”
As well as overwhelming Labour opposition to a return to full-scale fox hunting, there is a small but vehement group of up to 26 Tory MPs who are against changing the law.
Earlier this year, the plan to tinker with the Hunting Act by way of a statutory instrument that would allow farmers to flush foxes with more than two dogs was shelved after protests by welfare groups.